VHP4Safety: Towards chemical safety assessment based on human data

Chemical safety assessment, designed to minimise the risks of chemical exposures to human health and the environment, has traditionally been based on animal testing. Many natural and man-made chemicals enter water bodies and can be found in water samples as complex mixtures of different, often unidentified substances at low concentrations. Potential risks to the environment and human health need to be assessed and managed. From an ethical and economical perspective, testing on vertebrate animals is not part of the safety assessment of water samples. Assessment of the safety of drinking water sources generally relies on existing (human or animal) data and data obtained from cell- and tissue-based test systems (in vitro bioassays) and/or computer models (in silico methods such as QSAR and read-across).


In recent years, extensive progress has been made in the development and validation of non-animal methods, including human experimental techniques, as a key strategy to improve the prediction of adverse effects of chemicals on human health. A new approach in this direction is the Virtual Human Platform for Safety Assessment (VHP4Safety) which has the mission to improve the prediction of the potential harmful effects of chemicals and pharmaceuticals based on a holistic, interdisciplinary definition of human health, to be represented in the Virtual Human Platform, and accelerating the transition from animal-based testing to innovative safety assessment. The Virtual Human Platform integrates data on human physiology, chemical characteristics and perturbations of biological pathways, in an inclusive and integrated manner that incorporates:

  1. human-relevant scenarios to discriminate vulnerable groups, such as patients, children, and elderly
  2. chemicals specific for different sectors: pharma, consumer products and chemical industry
  3. different regulatory and stakeholder needs

Joint efforts to improve chemical safety assessment

The Virtual Human Platform addresses the societal prerequisite of the transition to animal-free safety assessment, by integrating various scientific disciplines in the consortium and working with many stakeholders towards implementation and societal acceptance of an approach to chemical safety assessment that is based on human data rather than animal data.

KWR collaborates in the VHP4Safety project with leading scientific groups from Dutch universities, university medical centers, public health institutes and applied research organisations, with expertise spanning the technological, biological, chemical, medical as well as the social sciences.

Together with the other collaborating partners, KWR also ensures the active involvement of various academic, regulatory, industrial and societal partners in the project throughout the entire safety assessment knowledge chain. In this way, the consortium brings together the necessary and complementary expertise to build, test, and evaluate the Virtual Human Platform for Safety Assessment, also for a more future-proof drinking water practice.

VHP4Safety – the Virtual Human Platform for safety assessment project NWA 1292.19.272 is part of the NWA research program ‘Research along Routes by Consortia (ORC)’, which is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). With a budget of over 10 million Euros, the project starts on June 1, 2021 and will last for the duration of 5 years. The project is coordinated by Utrecht University (Juliette Legler), together with the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU).